Longtime Fans Face Personal Choices

added 12/1/2011 by Bob Hulsey

Most Houston Astros fans are in the doldrums. The team they've loved and supported, many for decades, is coming off the worst season in their history with no prospects for a quick turnaround. Worse, for some, is the news that the team will be switched to the American League in 2013 as part of a new agreement that will include expanded playoffs and more interleague games.

Some have been quite vocal in their disgust and some have sworn to either withhold support of the Astros or find a new team to cheer for. This is a personal choice that forces fans to consider what they find upsetting about their current circumstance and what the appropriate response should be.

Do you hate supporting a losing team which may not be respectable again, as one source told ESPN's Buster Olney, for the next 4-to-7 years?

Do you hate leaving the rivalries of the National League?

Do you feel that Houston's longtime history and affiliation with the National League has been needlessly defiled?

Do you hate the increase in late night games?

Do you hate the prospect of having a designated hitter in most future Astros games?

Do you hate the process that forced new owner Jim Crane to agree to switch leagues through a method that could be considered bullying at best and blackmail at worst?

Do you hate that Crane got a $70 million discount which is unlikely to be turned into any benefit to fans other than perhaps lower ticket prices which should only be fair given the product those fans will be watching?

Or are you ultimately okay with all of this as long as you get a daily baseball fix six months out of the year?

To each their own. There is no right or wrong answer here.

Speaking just for myself, I despise the designated hitter rule. It kills much of the late game strategy that makes the game fascinating for me. I also thrilled at those pitchers like Brandon Backe and Mike Hampton who actually pulled their weight in the ninth hole and fear that their skills will become a lost art, much like bunting to advance a runner. It was more fun having eight hitters who were expected to get a hit and one who wasn't instead of nine guys with roughly equal expectations of getting on base.

I could go on and on about how much I dislike the DH and how boring I find interleague play when it involves the DH but why do that now when an entire column could be made from it?

My support of the Astros will die beginning in 2013 because of the DH and the only thing I can think of that might change this would be for Crane to get a promise from the next commissioner that the Astros will be switched back to a DH-less National League at whatever point Major League Baseball next realigns or expands. Then, I could probably hold my nose for awhile, double my intake of No Doze and tough it out a few years.

However, nothing is coming from the new regime saying they have any desire to do that. They seem to be in love with the idea of Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox fans providing most of the home attendance the next few years. The other 66 home dates might not fill Hofheinz Pavillion.

I suppose, in the end, I love National League baseball more than I love the Houston Astros because, when push came to shove, I chose the more enjoyable style of play over the one most important franchise. It may become moot as I fear the next push from the union will be to force the DH on the National League. You'll soon hear cries and moans about "fairness" in the same way they popped up over evening the two leagues. It's the DH lobby exerting their will over the rest of us, same as it was this last time. Should that day come, it won't signal a return to the Astros for me. It will signal my abandonment of the sport.

Those of you with other objections deserve a hearing too. Some chose a team in both leagues and now have no use for the ALstros. Some had personal rivalries with Cubs, Cardinals or Braves fans that are now rendered meaningless. Some are just weary of backing Houston teams that always fail to come through when it matters and this is the last straw.

Some want to give Crane and the new management team a chance before they decide what to do about it. For others, the important thing is to support the city's sports teams no matter what.

The Astros will get tepid support at first and may get more if they can find a formula for winning. That's the history of past Houston teams. They won't tolerate losers for long but they are quick to forgive and forget if you can produce champions.

A few recall the outrage of the 1994 strike where fans vowed they would not return and most eventually came back. They think that will happen this time too. The big difference, to me (and I was not one who thought the strike was a valid reason for punishing the Astros), is that this time the Astros alone were singled out for this treatment and there was nobody - not the new owners, the old owners, the local media or the commissioner - that seemed at all interested in what the fans wanted. The Astros fans were told to shut up and take it.

Fans can be fickle but they don't always fail to get their way. Recall the final year of the Houston Oilers when fans stayed away in droves and found new NFL allegiances. Some embraced the Texans when they came to replace the Oilers while others simply moved on to another team or another sport. In the end, sports fans are like any consumer with the free will to switch brands if they aren't happy with a product or service.

No business should expect loyalty from customers who refuse to hear their voices. Many a venture has gone bankrupt because they didn't listen and then wondered why their stores were empty. I doubt the Astros will go broke and I don't wish for them to go broke but they aren't giving any impression yet they have heard their angry customers. Their displeasure won't be soothed by cheaper seats or more giveaways. A trust has been violated that needs to be won again, if that's possible.

Without acknowledging and rebuilding that trust, the Astros may hear silence in their stands and in their gift shops, just as the Oilers did on their way out of town.